Dutchman holding a bird

Place made: 
Asia; Japan
Dutchman holding a bird, 18th century
Ivory; carved with pigment
Overall: 4 1/8 in x 1 in x 3/4 in; 10.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 1.9 cm
William Richter Collection, Gift of Margaret Ruth Richter (Class of 1939)
MH 1986.30.33

In 18th century Japan, Europeans were perceived as mysterious beings and objects of curiosity. Fearing political subversion, the Japanese government confined Dutch merchants to the tiny island of Deshima in Nagasaki harbor. The sole opportunity for Japanese to glimpse Europeans came during the annual visit of the Dutch East India Company representative to the shogun in Edo, present-day Tokyo. A particularly vivid description of these foreigners describes them as “imaginary beings with cat’s eyes, huge noses, red hair, and shrike’s-tongues.”